I spent a large portion of my seminary years at a gay nightclub called Oasis, which, as it was located in “The Inland Empire” in Southern California was largely populated by Latino men. Being a pastoral intern and learning how to be a pastor often felt like walking on a tightrope. Being a seminarian felt like being a head without a body. I went to the club to hang out with my friends. I went to the club to dance. I went to the club in defiance of what everyone expected me to be doing in seminary. I went to the club because it was so much nicer than going to straight clubs and being creepily hit on.
Mostly though, I went to the club to be more fully human. The darkened space, the deep pulsing of the bass, the squeals of delight, the sweating bodies, and the freedom to MOVE balanced my life. It got me out of my head, and into the wholeness of my body. It was a sanctuary from TRYING so hard to BE and to BECOME someone other than who I was. It was part of being a whole person, and not just a desexualized, dehumanized, pastoral person. It was fun, it was ridiculous at times, and it was definitely fully embodied.
As a straight, white, cisgender seminary student, the mostly Latin gay club was a sanctuary for the fullness of my humanity. It was safe space to be. For the men I went dancing with, the space was far more important. It was community, it was family, (it was a dating pool), it was space where they were allowed to look at (and often touch) other men without reproach. For the men and women who might otherwise have been closeted, I suspect the space was even more important. It was a place to be accepted as who they were, even if mostly anonymously. For those from families and communities who believed that God’s grace had limits, it was space to shake off those shackles and be free.
All week I’ve heard of the gay club as “sanctuary,” and all the more so on Latin night for people who are Latino, Latina, and Latinx. Personally, I believe it, because on my own micro scale, I’ve lived it. I believe it, because I can imagine a little bit, how much more important the experience of sanctuary has been for those for whom the space was actually made – the very same people for whom most churches are places of violence rather than safety.
As followers of Jesus, our lives are meant to be focused on building the kindom of God. It is the work that Jesus was doing in his life time, and it is the work we continue as the Body of Christ through our lifetimes. The kindom of God is the world as God would have it be: a time when the resources of the world are shared with freedom and all people have enough to survive and thrive. The kindom of God is the time when all people treat each other as the closest of kin, taking care of each other and supporting each other’s needs.
This was the work of Jesus. He found ways to help people connect with each other and support each other even in the midst of the challenges of the Roman Empire’s occupation of Galilee and Judea. This is the work we are still at. Weeks like this past one are ones when we are particularly aware of how far the world is from the kindom.
Like broken Gentile man in the gospel, the brokenness of our world is Legion. Thinking only of Orlando, there are so many ways that the kindom of God was desecrated. The work of the kindom is toward peace and wholeness: violence defiled it. The work of the kindom is toward safety and security: gunshots profaned it. The work of the kindom is to end racism and acknowledge the profound beauty and humanity of people with all skin tones: the kindom was violated when ever more vulnerable brown-skipped bodies were filled with bullets. The work of the kindom is to eliminated xenophobia and acknowledge our shared humanity with people from all nations and ethnicity: the kindom was profaned in the targeted attack on the Latin community. The work of the kindom is to build up the vulnerable and enable all people to live full and abundant lives: the kindom was defaced when the targeted population was the vulnerable LGBTQI community. The work of the kindom is to care for the sick and injured, including the mentally ill and injured: the work of the kindom was dishonored by the ways the shooter failed to be treated.
Friends, a massacre happened at a gay club on Latin night. The horrors are Legion. The world is so broken.
Yet, our question today is the same question we bring everyday: what is our role in bringing the kindom of God today? It seems that there are many ways forward. One is living into the grief, which must be one. Another is in letting the anger within us rise and motivated us to action, which also must be done. But for today, for this one day, my sense is that our role in brining the kindom of God is to at rest and to be comforted. The comfort won’t take away the grief, and it won’t take away the anger. But in the midst of tragedy, one of God’s yearnings is to comfort the people, and one of our responsibilities is to receive the comfort.
In our tradition, even Sunday is seen as a mini-Easter, a day to remember the power of God to bring life into the world. In our tradition, as in many, the space in which we gather to worship is a “sanctuary.” The word itself comes from Latin through French, deriving from Latin “sanctus” for “holy.” Because the law of the medieval church held that no one could be arrested in a sanctuary, another meaning derived as well, one that indicates that a fugitive is safe and immune from those who would harm them. At times, our church sanctuaries still function in that way.
Gathering together in holy space, where all are meant to be safe, to celebrate the work of the Living God over and over again is part of the rhythm and ritual of building the kindom. Our sanctuaries are the places we experience enough safety to be able to connect with God, with each other, and with the deepest parts of ourselves. They are imperative to the creation of the kindom, as they are what the kindom will actually be (just on a bigger scale!) They are imperative to the creation of the kindom because they form us into kindom people.
Gathering in this space today, we bring with us grief, anger, confusion, and fear – at least. In this sacred space I hope we are able to let go of our grip on each of those and let God’s love and hope find a home in us again. We gather in this space, letting God comfort and heal us, resting in faith that God’s comfort and healing will be with all those who need it.As one scholar reminded me this week, “the words ‘heal’ and ‘save’ are the same in Greek.”1 That’s a fact to put in your memory bank and keep the next time someone says something theologically stupid. It will keep your head from exploding. 😉 One of the most consistent messages of Christianity has been “Our God saves.” When translated to “Our God heals” this is a message to soak in. In the Gospel lesson, God working through Jesus heals a man whose harms are “Legion.” In and through us, and others, God is at work to heal the world’s Legion harms as well.
Some of our response requires us to pay attention to grace, wonder, and beauty around us. Today we had the opportunity to participate in the sacrament of baptism, officially welcoming Kate Rosemary into the Body of Christ, and promising to teach her how to love God and God’s people. What a source of wonder she is! What a joy it is to see her thriving! What a source of life renewal and energy she is! This beautiful, happy baby and her loving wise parents remind us of the goodness of life. The wonder of baptism reminds us all that we are welcome among God’s people. There is a lot to be grateful for.
Today we also have the opportunity to celebrate the High School graduation of Chris Rambo Jr. As many here remember, Chris Jr. and his faith Chris Sr. came to this church when Chris Jr. was young and many pieces of his soul still hurt. Chris Sr. was in the process of adopting him, a call he had known for many years. This church baptized Chris Jr., and confirmed him, has celebrated him and occasionally scolded him, loved him, and expressed how proud they are of him.
I don’t know what Chris Jr.’s live would have been like without Chris Sr., but I imagine most of his achievements would not have been possible. He would not have been on the Academic Honor Roll at the Capital Region Career and Technical School in his Junior and Senior Years. He would not have volunteered for the Crop Walk, fundraised for the BOCES Christmas Toy Drive, packed Thanksgiving dinners, insulated homes for Habitat for Humanity and Global Volunteers, walked dogs at the Damien Center, performed hurricane relief in Schoharie County, sang Christmas carols to shut-ins, performed maintenance at Sky Lake Camp & Retreat Center, and served many breakfasts and dinners at First United Methodist and Schenectady City Mission. He would have not become a volunteer fire fighter, nor a certified scuba diver, nor Red Cross certified in First Aid and CPR for Adults, Children,
and Infants. He likely would not have been able to play volleyball, wrestling, and basketball for Guilderland. And quite likely his life would not have made it possible for him to enter the Automotive Technology Program at Hudson Valley Community College this Fall.
God’s love has been the motivating force in Chris Sr.’s life for a very long time. God nudged Chris to become a father to someone who needed him, and Chris to the call very seriously. Chris Jr. was a hurting, struggling kid whose life has been transformed by his father’s love and by the love of the adults he has come to know through his many activities and this church. His life and his successes are proof of the power of the love of God in the world. Healing has come. Life is good. There is much to be grateful for.
Friends who went to Orlando this week reported the existence of dance parties. The LGBTQI community was healing itself through dance. The Latino/Latina/Latinx community was healing itself through dance. The same experience that had been violated with horrific violence was reclaimed to continue its work of healing. There are many too deep in grief to dance. There are may too profoundly wounded to dance. There are way too many who will never dance again. Yet those who could and would, danced. The life-force in them required reclaiming their bodies, their anthems, their lives, their space, their sanctuaries.
It is time to reclaim sanctuaries. I say this as act of defiance. Acts of terrorism and violence, particularly mass murders in communal spaces are intended to make us afraid. Sanctuaries have been violated, but they must be reclaimed. Fear has been poured into the water of our country and our world, but we cannot continue to drink from it.
We must reclaim sanctuary in this space and for the world for the sake of the kindom. We be formed into full expressions of God’s love while we live in fear. So, our work is to make space for the wonder: for Katie Rosemary, for Chris Jr, and for dance parties. Our work is to attend to the goodness along with the horrors. Our work is to find space and people among whom we feel safe and to soak in the goodness. Our “work” is to let God comfort us, and bring us rest. Having hung with God before, I suspect this work will transform itself soon enough! We might as well enjoy Sabbath, Sanctuary, rest and comfort for now – for the sake of the kindom. Amen
Sermon Talkback Questions
- What emotions did you bring with you today?
- Are there other aspects of the Legions of horrors that need to be named?
- When have you experienced sanctuary most profoundly?
- What do you sense God calling you/us to today?
- What else is necessary in you/us to feed us for the building of the kindom?
- I listed Kate’s baptism, Chris Jr’s graduation, (really, Chris Sr’s adoption of Chris Jr), and dance parties in Orlando as signs of hope. I really wanted to add the “act of nonconformity” passed by the New England Annual Conference. What else did you want to add?
- How else do we reject fear?
- Where and how else can we work to reclaim sacred space? (Dancing works for me, what works for you?)
1 James W. Thomas “Exegetical Perspective on Luke 8:26-39” , p. 171 of “Feasting on the Word Year C Volume 3” edited by Barbara Brown Taylor and David Bartlett (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville Kentucky, 2010).
Rev. Sara E. Baron
First United Methodist Church of Schenectady
603 State St. Schenectady, NY 12305
June 19, 2016